THE STORMY NORTH 43'
We will try to keep out of the sick-room as far as possible in these
pages, but we shall have to enter it occasionally, if only because
it has much to teach us.
Certainly there is nothing of the sick-room about the scene
which stretches before us as we are waiting for the doctor.
We are in a small rocky fortress on the North-West Frontier.
Delhi (which we left two weeks ago, only to land straiglit into
the Peshawar hospital) lies six hundred miles to the south* in the
sweltering plains. Here it is cool; dusk is falling and a violet haze
lies over the valley.
The view is melodramatic. Seventy miles to the west lie the
wild outposts of Afghanistan. Due north, beyond a flat, mono-
tonous plain, rises a range of jagged mountains, dust-coloured by
day, indigo by night, layer upon layer, like a succession of £flats'
on the stage of a theatre. They are the first steps in the vast
staircase that leads, via the Himalayas, to the roof of the world.
From far below echo the perpetual thunders of the Swat River,
hurrying to joirx the giant Indus, whose valleys have rung to the
march of the invader from times immemorial. Three hundred
and twenty-seven years before the birth of Christ, had we been
standing on the site of this fortress, we should have seen an army
mustering in the valley below.. .an army that marched proudly,
with the arrogance of countless conquests, plumed, helmeted,
striking terror to the 'barbarian'—the army of Alexander the
Great. But Alexander was not the first, nor by any means the
last of the hungry hordes from the north, who have swept like
bitter winds through the mountain corridors, to chill and blast the
soft culture of the south. Till only yesterday—for what is a
hundred years in the history of India ?—those corridors yawned
open, an eternal temptation to the invader.
But now, it is a different tale. Supposing that we tell some of'
that tale now ? It will mean setting back the cbck a few days,
but we have plenty of time on our hands, for the doctor has a long
way to ride, and the roads are rough.